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‘The problem is real’
Law enforcement’s perspective
In the era of the internationally known Jeffrey Epstein scandal, it’s impossible not to be at least vaguely familiar with human trafficking, most specifically child sex trafficking.
Even so, the global crisis is shrouded in mystery and feels far, far away from the fields and fences of the Bluegrass State.
One might pose the question: “Is human trafficking a problem in Kentucky?”
The answer is a clear and resounding, “Yes”.
“Human Trafficking is real,” said Rugina Lunce, a member of the KSP human trafficking task force.
The task force was formed in 2017 to help combat a problem that is constantly growing. There is now a detective at each of the sixteen KSP posts who are trained to recognize and properly deal with human trafficking.
“Detective Michael Keeton from KSP DESI East said it best when I asked him what needs to be said about Human Trafficking in Kentucky. He said, ‘It is an evolving matter that needs a focused effort of resources dedicated to only it. It is truly occurring. Our courts are not prosecuting to the fullest extent, and our resources are not recognizing it in the simplest form.’ Also, we have a population that is not reporting the stuff that matters.”
Human trafficking is not always reported, even within the law enforcement community, because it is not recognized for what it is.
Although there are many forms of child sex trafficking, in the state of Kentucky, Lunce explained it is usually a family member trafficking the child.
“It is the mom, dad, aunt, uncle, grandparents, or foster parents in most of the cases we see,” Lunce said. “It is a problem all over the state. Nowhere is immune to it…Parents frequently sell their kids.”
Lunce added that the pervasiveness and far reaching nature of this epidemic is due to the Internet because, in this day and age, almost every one of every social, ethnic, and economic background has access to the World Wide Web.
“Most of the trafficking is done online now,” Lunce said. “It is all online, and it is all public.”
Lunce also said that when it comes to the type of people partaking in the online sex trafficking of minors, they come from all walks of life.
“There is no demographic,” she stated.
And, like all other issues, the problem is bigger in mass gathering.
Events like the Kentucky Derby, basketball tournaments, and the annual farm machinery show in Louisville are hotbeds of activity for child sex trafficking and human trafficking in general.
As far as the victims go, there is also no specific demographic. However, experts like Lunce and the team she works with have seen that certain lifestyle factors make it more likely for a child to be part of a sex trafficking ring.
“Abuse from an early age, drug dependency within the family, and assault at an early age that causes them to accept the treatment as normal can all be contributing factors,” she said.
Also, children are not only sold for money. They are also often bartered for anything from drugs to food and shelter.
Drug abuse is closely linked to the child sex industry in Kentucky and, because of that, DESI (Drug Enforcement Special Investigations) plays a prominent role in identifying and reporting human trafficking.
Identifying the problem is the first hurtle because it is hidden in plain sight and takes on many disguises.
A recent case in Bowling Green involved a 54–year–old man who was forcing children to sell candy door to door for him.
Shawn Floyd brought 12 children with him from Indiana to sell candy for profit and forced them to sleep in one hotel room with three adults.
A press release from the Attorney General’s office said the children were forced to buy their own food and water. The youngest child was 11. The minimum age for employment under Kentucky Labor Law is 14–years–old.
The children were forced to work without sustenance for hours in the heat so that Floyd could profit. He called what he was doing the “Youth in Action Program”.
In a 2017 case, Knott County man Freddy Kennedy, Jr. was sentenced to four consecutive life sentences.
Kennedy traveled to pain clinics in other states to illegally obtain prescription drugs and distributed them to dealers in Perry County and Knott County.
Kennedy had sexual contact with at least four minor victims, including three who were under the age of the 10 at the time he abused them. He had access to the victims because their parents were individuals he encountered during his drug dealing operations.
In yet another human trafficking case in the Louisville Metro area, a man named Silky Clark was sentenced to 21 years in prison for the production of child porn and trafficking a minor.
According to a report from WHAS News Channel 11, Clark’s mother testified as a character witness. She told the court she had been a victim of trafficking when she was 15 and that Clark’s father was her trafficker. She told the court that Clark was modeling the behavior he saw and blamed the power of drugs and alcohol.
She also testified that she had met the victim in her son’s presence, but that because of the fake ID she carried she believed the girl to be an adult.
As far as adult victims of human trafficking, force, fraud, and coercion are often used to scare or brainwash the victims into servitude.
Force can include kidnapping, torture, physical and sexual abuse, confinement, and forced drug use.
Fraud could include promises of valid immigration documents, fake IDs, the misrepresentation of working conditions, and wooing the victim into a romantic relationship known as the Romeo Affect.
Coercion can include debt bondage, threats of harm to the victim or their family, control of the victim’s children, control of the victim’s finances, and verbal and psychological abuse.
These factors make the abuse hard to overcome, but it is not impossible.
“For the ones who get help, they are extremely strong survivors at the end,” Lunce said.
Part two of this series, The Victim’s Perspective, can be found in next week’s edition.